British Unitarians this weekend will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Unitarian toleration Act which became law on 21 July 1813. The Act removed penalties against those who were deniers of the Trinity who had not been given toleration under the Toleration Act of 1689 and the Blasphemy Act of 1698. It's promoter, William Smith MP, rightly said that the Act enabled every Denomination of Christian to preach their respective tenets without let or hindrance, "none, legally daring to make them afraid". Since then Unitarians have continued when they gather to toast "civil and religious liberty the world over".
The General Assembly has published a worship pack on 1813 prepared by myself which will hopefully be used in services this weekend.
The most significant effect of the Act was that it aided the emergence of Unitarianism from the shadows. The name "Unitarian" could now be used in public without fear. Unitarianism was now a distinct and separate movement within Dissent rather than being purely an intellectual position held by individuals.
Our commitment to religious freedom stems directly from our own experience. Blasphemy legislation remains in place in many parts of the world and is used, and abused, to harass political and religious dissent and sometimes to settle personal disputes. An accusation of blasphemy is particularly pernicious and dangerous. It is difficult to refute and the public can be easily inflamed by emotive rhetoric. Justice is rarely done, even if the accused is cleared by the secular legal authorities.
In reflecting upon the Unitarian experience we should be motivated to support the demands for religious freedom of others. You can do this by joining the International Association for Religious Freedom, a worldwide multi-faith not for profit campaigning organisation.